The black fragment touched the edge of the transparent orb, one of the jagged ends stabbing into it. And the moment it did so, it was as if they had fallen into the depths of a whirlpool. Energy gushed out from the orb, Yao Jun's hair fluttering violently as the energy cut open his skin. He pulled his arm back and placed his hand on his chest, the black fragment sinking back into the place where it felt at home.
But it had already gotten a taste of the overwhelming energy that was present so how could it possibly give up on it just because it returned home? It released a suctioning force stronger than anything it had released in the past, latching onto even the energy that had blown past Yao Jun.
All the energy swirled around Yao Jun as the orb grew smaller and smaller, the ever-changing scenario inside it already completely gone. The energy rushed through Yao Jun's body, wrecking his veins and tearing at his bones in a violent manner before it was drawn into the small fragment. It normally wouldn't be this violent and harmful to absorb the energy, but Yao Jun wasn't absorbing the energy and was instead feeding it to something else, it was only natural that the energy would rebel slightly.
The orb quickly vanished under the violent absorption, the small black fragment pulsating as it drew in the last few remnants. Small cracks had started to spread on the entire fragment, faint traces of energy leaking out from them. But it hadn't finished germinating, Yao Jun's expression darkening somewhat.
"...Not quite enough... Let's hope you weren't lying to me, Chang Yun..."
His hand reached out to the side and picked up the jug of wine he had placed at his side, the rim touching his lips as he greedily drank the wine. Chang Yun had told him that he should not drink this wine before he reached the Heavenly Deity stage, doing so would cause both his body and his God Gate to explode. And Yao Jun had actually seen exactly that happen when he forced someone else to drink a bit of the wine, they had exploded magnificently.
And now he was hoping for just that to happen, he hoped for the wine to contain so much energy that this little fragment would burst open to reveal its insides. He didn't know what he would find inside, but he knew that it would be his best clue when it came to finding out if Yao Xuelian and the others were still alive despite his God Gate breaking.
The energy unleashed as the wine entered his stomach was as violent as he expected, it tore directly through his stomach and started its rampage through his body. He was pushing it, he knew that, he was taking a risk that could lead to his death. But he needed to take it, he felt that he had to, he would miss out on something vital if he avoided it, his instincts, his very essence, was screaming it at him.
The energy tore through his body and was then snatched up by the small fragment that was already in the process of digesting the final remnants of the Evolution Heart. And in the end, it became the final straw that broke the camel's back. The cracks grew even larger, and with a sound so soft that it was almost inaudible, the smallest of the nine fragments in his chest burst open.
A bright light was unleashed by the fragment as it burst open, a suction force so strong that it made the previous one pale in comparison erupting out. The suction force made short work of the remaining energy, and when it found that to be insufficient, it moved on to Yao Jun. It latched onto his soul and his torn flesh, drawing it in towards the bright light. Yao Jun had closed his eyes and shut off his senses so he couldn't see the surroundings, his full attention placed on the practically burning light and its suction force.
"...Very well, feast as much as you like. Let me see exactly what you are trying to birth, you'd best not disappoint me after all this."
He wasn't sure if he actually muttered the words out or if he just thought them in his mind, but he gave up trying to resist the suction force and instead guided his all towards the bright light. His soul, his flesh, his bones, his veins, his blood, everything was drawn into the bright light, which completely swallowed Yao Jun's mind and dyed it a perfect, timeless white.
Yao Jun didn't know it since his consciousness had vanished as it sank into the blinding light, but Zhuan Yi and the others were staring at him with their mouths agape. The moment the small fragment burst open, they saw his body collapse in on itself. Quite literally even, it was as if a black hole had opened in the centre of his chest, his flesh and blood getting sucked in without mercy.
Every trace of Yao Jun vanished in but a single second, only a simple orb of pulsating light that continuously changed colour hovering where he used to sit. The three looked at the orb, that was still unleashing a very faint suction force, Zhuan Yi involuntarily muttering as she took a step back.
"...Amazing, absolutely astonishing. It's a bit unstable and I feel like a lot of energy was lost, but he actually managed it, he busted it wide open. Now I just wonder what the end-result will be..."
The orb did indeed feel a bit unstable, and it was leaking a fair bit of energy despite the suction force that surrounded it. But even so, she could feel the unmistakable traces of life force surging within the orb. Something was growing within it, something was being born. But what exactly it was that would reveal itself when this egg-like orb cracked was something no one present knew.
Sirius and Ba-Shei were also looking at the orb, utterly dumbfounded and uncertain, no one really knew what was going to happen now. But hearing Zhuan Yi's assessment, Ba-Shei's expression sank sharply. His pupils swam about a bit as his thoughts raced, a decision eventually forming in his mind.
"I'll help him, the end-result should be even better at that point."
He handed over the interspatial ring that Yao Jun had tossed him as he spoke, making sure that Sirius caught it. But just as he wanted to step towards the orb to help stabilize it for a better end-result, Sirius placed a hand on his shoulder.
"There is no need, his state is stable enough, we just need to wait for him to finish. He does not need our help, we just need to stand guard."
It might be a bit strange for one of Yao Jun's companions to stop someone else from helping him, but Sirius had his reasons. He knew what Ba-Shei was planning, knew exactly how he wanted to help Yao Jun. And it was something he found a bit hard to accept, for a multitude of reasons. Ba-Shei stopped for a second when Sirius placed a hand on his shoulder, his expression flickering.
His expression made it abundantly clear that he had something on his mind, and thanks to the experience Sirius had managed to gather over the years, he could tell that this something was most likely worry. Ba-Shei's eyes were locked on the pulsating orb despite Sirius' question, but he eventually grit his teeth.
"Yes, you're right. Whatever he's doing, it's stable enough to be seen through to completion. We just have to sit here and watch and he will finish his transformation, he will emerge from that cocoon a changed being, an ascended one no doubt. He will be closer than ever before to reaching his desired apex, he really doesn't need us to help."
Ba-Shei had no idea what was going on inside the orb of light, nor did he know what would come out from it. But he had full trust in Yao Jun, he had complete belief in the fact that his god would step out of that orb and continue moving towards the seat destined for him. But he was bitter, that was a fact that he had to admit.
"But does that mean that we can't help him? Right now I am still able to be of use to him, I can still lend him my strength and help pave the path to the seat of God. But what about after this, what about after he's gotten the chance to walk his path just a bit further?"
Once, Ba-Shei was nothing more than a normal snake that mutated into a Demonic beast thanks to a strong influx of Qi. And later on, he even got the grace of becoming a Divine Beast thanks to Yao Jun and his God Gate, he had reached heights that should have been impossible for him. But now that God Gate was gone, the greatest aid of this unremarkable snake had vanished, yet his lord never stopped moving.
"You and Gray, you both have God Gates, or at least something extremely similar. Both of you have already started taking the steps towards ascending to a higher state, you are much more useful to him than me. And that divide will only grow larger as time passes, after all, how many Divine Beasts remain as mere Divine Beasts despite their best efforts?"
It was a strange statement, remain mere Divine Beasts. But neither Sirius nor Ba-Shei felt that it was wrong, normal Divine Beasts were not good enough, there would come a time where they would no longer be able to travel safely beside their lord. And once they could no longer be safe at his side, their lord would not be willing to keep them at his side, not in the way they wanted to at least.
"But does that mean that I am to just be thrown aside? Left to rot safely in some corner when I am no longer as helpful? He won't mean it, I know he won't, he'll just want to make sure that I'm safe. He wants to make sure that I remain unharmed while he goes off to fight enemies that I have no hope of standing against."
Ba-Shei was loyal, he was probably one of the two most loyal companions that Yao Jun had. And this all stemmed from the fact that he had picked him up while they were both weak, both of them slowly climbing higher. But when you took loyalty too far you got obsession, and perhaps that was a word that was better suited for some of Yao Jun's companions. For him, there was nothing they wouldn't do, and as Little Thunder had shown, they would even gladly throw away their own lives for him.
"But what sort of existence is that? I am just a weapon, his weapon, I exist solely for his sake, I rose higher, solely for his sake. When a weapon loses its purpose, what point is there in its existence?"
Ba-Shei had been able to avoid thoughts like these in the past, even when Yao Jun was still at his peak and could somewhat fight against early-stage Sovereign Gods. Much less had to be said for when Yao Jun lost his God Gate, the amount of time he would be useful had been drastically extended at that point.
But now he could feel that crumble, the confidence that he could be useful for much further was falling apart like a sand-castle in the rain. So much energy had gone into cracking open that small fragment, so just what sort of monster would their lord be when he stepped out of it? What realm of existence would he reach, and just who could hope to stand against him? And at that point, what sort of use would a mere serpent like Ba-Shei be? Would he not just be a hindrance at every turn?
"You're right, he doesn't need us to help him, doesn't need me to help him... But I need to help him, I need to be of use to him. Because if I'm not of use to him, then I won't have a purpose, my existence will be pointless."
Selfish, that was the only word Ba-Shei could use to describe his thoughts. He was selfish and despicable, wishing to be useful above all else. But was it not their lord that had afforded them this selfishness? Was it not he that gave them the freedom to act like this?
"So please, let me help him here, let my existence have a purpose."
Only as he spoke these words did Ba-Shei turn his head, directing a heartfelt plea at Sirius, who locked eyes with him. Sirius couldn't say that he didn't understand Ba-Shei's thoughts, he was certain that Du Xiao, Siwang, and the others had felt them before as well. They were all strong, but wasn't their god a true monarch among demons? What would become of them when they were no longer useful to him, what worth would they have at his side then?
Even Sirius had thought things like that before, would the freedom he had acquired feel hollow at that point? Would he feel lonely? He didn't know, and he didn't want to find out. But since he had shared the same thoughts, did he really have the right to stop Ba-Shei?
"...You're not allowed to die."
Those were the only words Sirius could push out in the end. They were allowed many things as Yao Jun's companions, but death was the one thing that was forbidden to them. Each death tore at their lord, ripped his heart to shreds. They never again wanted to see the state he had been in when he learned of Little Thunder's death, that was something far too heartbreaking for them.
Ba-Shei's lips arched up as he looked at Sirius, he looked truly thankful. Sirius, Little Gray, and even Xuhuan Huo, all three of them had God Gates or something very similar. But what he was going to receive was something far greater than that.
"I know, My Lord would never accept an outcome like that. Death is the one thing that is never allowed to us so I have no intention of dying here. I will just be reborn along with our lord, I still have yet to see him ascend to the seat of god after all."
Would he be part of his lord? Would he be absorbed and completely erased? Or would he be reborn as something minor along with his lord? He honestly had no idea, but no matter which of the three outcomes he got, he didn't feel like any of them would be a death, there was no death in being useful to his lord.
He turned away from Sirius and resolutely stepped towards the pulsating orb, opening both his arms wide and embracing it. He didn't resist and allowed the suctioning force to tear at his flesh and soul, ripping off chunks and absorbing them.
Just like with Yao Jun, Ba-Shei's body quickly vanished and became part of the orb, sealing up the energy that had been leaking out. He was willing to do whatever it took, give everything he had to improve his lord's end-result. But as to what would be born when that orb finally cracked open, only time would tell.